Thursday, May 29, 2008

Indispensable Thoughts on Sine Qua Non

Thanks to a combination of our neighbors to the north and the Internet, I have had a chance to watch the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica early. It made for an uneven but enjoyable ride which shook things up on Galactica quite thoroughly.

The title "Sine Qua Non" is essentially legalese for "indispensable" and this episode hammered that theme home from start to finish. We start with Natalie, the Cylon leader, dying after Athena shoots her. Like everyone else aboard Galactica these days, Athena is having visions and hers tell her that a Six model like Natalie will take away her child. Athena reacts as most mothers would and terminates the perceived threat with extreme prejudice. Adama, not being aware that the theme of the episode is how we react to the loss of the one indispensable person in our lives, throws Athena in the brig.

With half of Galactica's pilots and their Vipers having already been onboard the damaged Cylon Basestar when it jumped away, Starbuck earns a reprieve from the "is she a Cylon?" doghouse because she is probably the only experienced Viper pilot that Galactica has left. While this is clear on a second viewing, less obsessive-compulsive viewers can be forgiven if they are a little confused.

Now that the president has been whisked away by the Cylons, the government needs a new leader (again with the "indispensable" theme). From the moment that we are told that Adama will not accept Tom Zarek as president, it's pretty clear that Lee Adama is the most likely candidate for the job. He's a new member of the Quorum, has no political enemies other than the MIA president Roslin, and is Admiral Adama's son. But the episode tries to milk some drama out of this by bringing in Baltar's ex-lawyer Romo Lampkin as an advisor to help find a new candidate for Colonial president.

But Romo Lampkin is a huge mess. Lee trips over his cat's food bowl and growls, "[Do] you ever feed that animal? Where is he anyway?" On repeated viewing this is should be the first clue that Romo has a problem because he can see the cat just fine even though Lee can't. That's right, while Adama sometimes sees his dead wife, Roslin and Athena have visions of baby Hera, and Tigh anguishes over his own dead wife, Romo Lampkin is seeing visions of what we are later told is a dead cat. The cool, manipulative lawyer is actually a sad, pathetic shell of a man who misses his cat.

But Adama has bigger fish to fry. It's been pretty obvious that Adama and Roslin have had unspoken love since at least New Caprica and now that Roslin is sick and missing, Adama's judgment is being compromised. When Galactica finds evidence that the Basestar which jumped has been destroyed by the Cylons, Adama refuses to acknowledge the possibility and pushes his depleted pilots to continue to search Roslin and her Basestar. It's Sine Qua Non all over again.

Speaking of indispensable people, Tigh still misses his wife so badly that he's still seeing her face when he looks at Caprica Six. And he's not just looking at her. Doc Cottle tells Adama that Caprica is pregnant. This leads to a confrontation between Adama and Tigh. The confrontation turns into a fist fight and long story, short Adama is now 2-0 against skinjob Cylons. The resolution of the fight where Tigh falls on Adama's boat and smashes it is a welcome moment of levity in an otherwise very serious episode.

Lampkin approaches Adama to explain the title of the episode to him and try to get Adama to accept Zarek as president. While the latter doesn't happen, the Sine Qua Non speech convinces Adama that his need to find Roslin has destroyed his objectivity and made him unfit for command.

Lampkin finally decides to drop the pretense and tells Lee that he needs to be president. And then he pulls a gun on him. It seems that Lampkin had abandoned his family to hop on a shuttle when the Cylons attacked. The death of the cat has pushed Lampkin over the edge, it was one thing for him to quietly move through the fleet with his cowardly shame, stealing things and playing the happily cynical lawyer. But when somebody kills his cat, Lampkin decides that everyone else in the fleet is just as cowardly and corrupt as he feels.

This is ostensibly his reason for pulling a gun on Lee. He's a perfect candidate for the presidency in his eyes. (Young, idealistic, with a vision of a better future -- does this remind you of anyone in real life?) And the fleet just doesn't deserve him. But in the end it's all just a weird form of psychotherapy for Lampkin as he really wants Lee to give him a reason to keep on living by promising to be the great leader that the fleet needs. It's all very overwrought and dramatic but it does fit into the "West Wing in Space" theme that BSG likes to wade into. And it also fits with the Sine Qua Non theme, Lee is supposed be clean, uncorrupted leader that the fleet needs. I don't quite think that this episode pulled the theme off but it was a fairly difficult role which required a lot of over the top acting and it worked well enough for what it was meant to do, which was to paint a portrait of a society on the verge of extinction reaching out to one great hope.

The episode has one final twist. Adama is stepping down as commander to go look for Roslin and he wants Tigh to take command. Tigh reminds him that his last turn in charge was a disaster but Adama tries to soothe his worries. The sight of secret Cylon Saul Tigh's bulging eyes as Adama tell him that he's not the same man that he used to be is unintentionally (or perhaps even intentionally) hilarious. The episode ends with Adama saying goodbye to his son and spiritual daughter, Lee and Kara and getting into a Raptor to wait for Roslin at a rendezvous point. As Adama sits alone in his Raptor, all the other ships jump away.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Battlestar Galactica Gets Lost

Here's a great mash up of the show Lost set to the opening theme of Battlestar Galactica. Mmm... two great tastes that taste great together.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Democrats Continue to Court Nerd Vote

First is was Star Wars. Now it's Monty Python. has a parody video made by the Obama campaign which casts Hillary Clinton as the hapless Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Another Spoiled Athlete

America's finest new source tells the story of yet another young athlete who has been awarded a multimillion dollar endorsement contract.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Mecha-Suit For Stephen Hawking

Neatorama has a link to a sculpture which is described as "A Prosthetic Suit for Stephen Hawking w/ Japanese Steel." Sadly, it's been done before. Physicist Stephen Hawking has had quite a remarkable career. Despite being severely disabled by Lou Gehrig's disease, he's one of the world's leading physicists. Besides his work on black holes and cosmology, Hawking is also a best-selling author and an accomplished "gansta rapper."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Battlestar Galactica Simpsons-style

Battlestar Galactica characters rendered as if they were characters from The Simpsons, here and here. Isn't the Internet wonderful?

Decision 2008—In Space!

Finally, a new candidate emerges:

This is a man who can deal with the Cylon menace. He's strong on defense:

Battlestar Galactica Battle of New Caprica

And in a tough election, he knows how to win a photo finish:

Monday, May 12, 2008

Celebrities Separated At Birth?

Shia LabeoufWil WheatonEvery week I watch Saturday Night Live. This week the host was Shia Labeouf, the guy who was in the live-action Transformers movie. I was struck by how much he reminded me of Wil Wheaton who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is probably the shallowest thing I've ever posted on this blog but there it is, it's such an uncanny resemblance that I just can't stop looking at the Transformers guy without thinking about Wesley Crusher.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Platypus Evolution

The Platypus is a weird animal. It has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, lays eggs and secretes venom like a snake, and it has fur and produces milk like a mammal. Now scientists have mapped out its genes and are reporting their results. It's interesting to see how they sort out the data. It turns out that this weird little creature has quite a long and varied history. It's not a "primitive" creature but rather one that has followed its own unique evolutionary path.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Funniest Weapon Ever

Probably my favorite sitcom right now is 30 Rock and one of the reasons is that it is so keyed into what is going on right now. Almost everything that is amusing, strange, or downright stupid about our society, government, and pop culture is certain to get satirized on 30 Rock. A few months ago, a hilarious story started making its way through the news cycle particularly on the blogs. Apparently, the US military at one point tried to create a non-lethal weapon which would make enemy combatants want to have gay sex with each other. It was the funniest story I'd ever heard and couldn't stop laughing when I read about it.

Just think about it—you're an evil enemy soldier brainwashed to hate America and suddenly a weapon strikes and suddenly you feel an irresistible urge to go shopping, listen to Elton John, and have gay sex with your fellow soldiers. It's hard not to laugh when you think that it. And the military seriously considered turning that into a weapon.

Sure enough a few months later, you have 30 Rock satirizing the idea. In the episode, when Jack Donaghy leaves GE for a job in the Bush administration, he is so shocked at the general incompetence at the White House, that he immediately decides to get himself fired at the first sign that he might get the head job at GE after all. And how does he propose to accomplish this? By trying to revive the "Gay Bomb."

Friday, May 9, 2008

The More Things Change...

I was looking at some cartoons on Gocomics when I saw this old Bloom County cartoon. It was originally published in the Washington Post and later released as part of a collection called "Loose Tails"—in 1983—twenty-five years ago. When you consider that the issue of Intelligent Design versus evolution is still being argued about in the courts, it's pretty amazing to see people still arguing. The whole series of Bloom County's "scientific penguinism" cartoons can be seen here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Laughing at the "N-word"

A recent Usenet thread led to this Daily Show segment. It does a good job of poking fun at racism and political correctness. It's the essence of what makes The Daily Show good in my opinion.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Evolution of the Eye

I can't remember where I first ran across this video. (Which is pretty pathetic since it just a couple of hours ago.) It deals with how eyes evolve in invertebrates and takes on a classic "intelligent design" argument that some organs, like the eye, are simply too complicated to have ever evolved without some sort of master "designer" interfering.

Bad Astronomy, Good Explanations

Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy website started out mainly as a forum for nitpicking the science in movies (hence the name) but over the years, Phil has turned it into a valuable and entertaining way of educating people about astronomy. Here's a video of Phil answering an intriguing question, "why don't giant clouds of gas dissipate in space?"

Monday, May 5, 2008

Palm—Always Dying, Never Dead

It seems that every time I look on the Internet, I see someone asking "is Palm dead?" And the answer from disgruntled Palm PDA and smartphone users is usually a mixture of bitter agreement, hand wringing, and denial. I try to take these comments with a grain of salt. Palm has been "dying" for most of its more than decade-long existence. I seem to recall the first "Palm is dead" posts appearing on Usenet almost as soon as Microsoft introduced Windows CE in order to create devices which would compete with PalmOS PDAs—that didn't happen. Searching through Google's Usenet archive, for the words "palm dead" the oldest thread on the subject of Palm's imminent death is dated May 27, 2001. That was seven years ago and Palm still hasn't died yet.

A lot of this is the natural Internet bitching and moaning that has always dominated Internet discussion. Part of it is that Palm has been legitimately in trouble several times over the years since they went public at the height of the dotcom era. But I think that a lot of it has been Palm's own fault. Palm has always been a very secretive company and yet it also makes a lot of clumsy attempts to reach out to its users. A good example of these problems is the Palm Foleo fiasco. For years Palm had hinted at the existence of a new class of mobile devices that they wanted to sell. Palm's founder Jeff Hawkins dropped tantalizing hints for almost two years. When the Foleo was finally near completion they hyped the device to jaded users who were skeptical of its modest specs and high price. And then, they abruptly decided that the device was flawed and canceled its release. And as a final insult, several rival companies quickly released similar products which sold very well. I can't help but think that a disaster like this one could have been avoided if Palm had communicated earlier and more effectively with its users.

Nerds Weigh-In On Presidential Race

So I was reading about astronomy on The Daily Galaxy when I saw that they linked to this video. It's an amusing take on the Democratic presidential primary done in Star Wars terms.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rewatchability: The Dunder Mifflin Org-Chart

I watch too much television and one of my favorite shows is The Office. One of the things I like about this show is that I can watch it again and again and find new things that make me laugh. One example of why came when I noticed something interesting about a recent episode.

In one scene, they show the office's organizational chart. I had to pause the action to catch all of the jokes. The women of the office for example, all have little icons to denote their gender and whether or not they have reached menopause, and are connected by pink dotted lines which supposedly denote their menstrual cycles. That last part was explained by Dwight who drew up the org-chart but the rest has to be seen to be believed. More little jokes abound in the chart. Oscar, who is gay has two little interconnected male symbols by his name. Creed Bratton, who has a reputation for being sleazy, has his name in quotes—implying that this is not his real name. Toby, the HR rep, has a Star of David by his name which implies he's Jewish. The two black men in the office, Stanley and Darryl have black power fists by their names. And Kevin has what appears to be a four leaf clover by his name.

This is hardly a new thing, cartoons like The Simpsons and Futurama have always had visual jokes that only appear on the screen for a fraction of a second. But these little things help keep me entertained and I suspect that I'm not alone in this regard.

Cool and Educational

Here's a very cool flash animation which shows the planets of the solar system (and a few extrasolar systems) and their orbiting moons. You can zoom in and out and see the moons spinning faster and slower. It's quite mesmerizing to see the moons around giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn buzzing around their parent worlds like swarms of bees.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gadget Watch

I always notice when characters on TV use gadgets like cell phones and PDAs. It's a little obsession that began with an episode of Angel where a lawyer decapitated another lawyer with a signal sent from her Palm III. Similarly, I was constantly amazed at the things that Jack Bauer could do with his Treo. So I was very interested to see Floyd on 30 Rock—the show which is the inspiration for the name on this blog—using the relatively new Palm Centro. I think that I've also seen a number of characters on CW sitcoms using the Centro.

This would seem to be good news for Palm as they seem to have lost the cast of How I Met Your Mother. Most of the characters on this CBS sitcom used to use Treos and have gradually migrated to iPhones. The iPhone is particularly popular as a TV prop these days. The most prominent of the iPhone's many TV appearances appear to be on the canceled NBC series Journeyman and on CBS' vampire series Moonlight.